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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2008-07-29

The Dallas Cowboys are a religion, even in Oxnard!
Training camp in southern California draws huge crowds.

By Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo signs autographs for the fans after practice during their 2008 training camp in Oxnard, California on July 26, 2008.
America's Team is alive and well and training for the upcoming NFL season in Southern California. After spending a fun Saturday shooting two practice sessions in front of thousands of blue and white-clad diehard fans I can say that no one will ever confuse Dallas Cowboys camp in Oxnard with Oakland Raiders camp in Napa.

The silver and black hold their annual training camp in the sterile surroundings of the Napa Marriott in front of no fans. They are not allowed, with the exception of a few specially invited corporate VIP's every once in awhile. The absence of cheering fans and the paranoid Raiders procedure of allowing photographers to only shoot the first 30 minutes of practice (we have to stop when they go into their "team" drill) make covering Raiders camp very dull.

Contrast the typical day at the Napa Marriott with they day I just spent covering the Cowboys camp at the Oxnard Marriott Residence Inn and you could not find two more opposite experiences.

Because of a busy schedule (you can never miss a BBQ at Jack Gruber's house) I left my home in the San Francisco Bay Area at 4am for the 350 mile trek down Highway 5 for Oxnard so I could make the 9am practice. I was worried about being a little tired after the early morning drive since I would have to shoot both practices and come up with a lot of material to make my editor happy. Thanks to the energy provided by the 5,000 Cowboy fans from all over the world I was able to get into the groove quite quickly and had a good time taking pictures for THE ENTIRE practice! I guess the Cowboys are not worried about me stealing secrets with my still camera and selling them to the Patriots!

The fans cheer after many of the plays during the team drills as they watch their favorites like Terrell Owens, Marion Barber or Tony Romo in action for the first time since January. I imagine that the Cowboys players have a much better time training in front of their screaming fans in Oxnard than the Raiders players do in front of the pine trees in Napa.

I have been to camps in the past that allowed feverish fans to watch and cheer in the searing heat, as their favorite players got ready for the upcoming season. I covered my first camp in Rocklin, California in July of 1987 when I shot the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers. That was a long time ago and I had no clue what I was doing, but I do remember the very hot sun, gigantic dragonflies, melting fans, ants attacking my hotel room, and us photographers having to shoot the action from a million miles away.

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Quarterback Joe Montana, left, and quarterback Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers sign autographs for the fans after practice at training camp at Sierra College in Rocklin, California in 1988.
I also covered the Cowboys camp in Austin, Texas in 1997 when they trained for the week with the before-mentioned Raiders. Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones and Raiders owner Al Davis are friends so the clubs used to train together, scrimmage and then play an exhibition game at Texas Stadium in the Texas heat. I will never forget that star-studded Cowboy team led by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin. This club really packed in the fans to watch their practices against a bad Raiders team coached by Joe Bugel. I remember my trip to Austin 11 years ago for many things, among them the incredible heat and humidity that sent dozens of fans to the hospital every day and meeting the very young Sporting News staffer Robert Seale for the first time.

After several boring summers of covering the Raiders in Napa I had forgotten what it was like to cover a camp with fans watching a GOOD team with incredible star power. I knew there would be thousands of Cowboy fans cheering their team when I covered them in Texas in 1997, but I was not prepared for the amazing support they get 1,487 miles away in a sleepy town along the southern California coast.

Thousands of fans paid $10.00 to park in Oxnard (admission to watch practice is free!) and got two practices for their bargain. They got there early and stayed late lining the perimeter of the field behind a low fence that allowed them to scream and beg their favorite players to stop by and sign an autograph for them after practice. The cool thing is that almost every player did so, much to the delight of the men and women and children who idolize them. The players seem to appreciate the fans giving them energy during the practices and they do a real nice job of repaying them afterwards by signing a helmet or jersey or ball or giant box of popcorn (think Terrell Owens).

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys drive a golf cart during training camp in Austin, Texas in 1997.
Even celebrity quarterback Tony Romo took the time to sign many autographs for the screaming fans after both practices, which also helps out us photographers by making some real nice feature pictures. This is another nice photo opportunity that never happens in Napa.

By the end of the day I was a little tired after getting only three hours sleep and driving for five hours to shoot two practices, but I felt really good and energized by what I had experienced. Because of the fun atmosphere and open media policy I was able to do my job and deliver a nice variety of photographs to my editor. The same cannot be said for the last few times I have shot in Napa when I always made the drive home through the wine country feeling bitter and cheated over the boring pictures I had just made.

It has been many years since I had the chance to regularly cover a talented NFL team with so many stars on their roster. Covering the Cowboys reminded me how much fun that can be. During the morning practice Dallas Morning News staff photographer Louis DeLuca kept telling me, "It's the Cowboys, man…" when we talked about how much they cover their local team. Deluca's two-week stay in Oxnard might get a little boring, but my one-day visit was just perfect.

Good luck to everyone photographing the Cowboys this season. I am envious for the fun ride you will have shooting America's Team.


(Brad Mangin is a freelance photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a co-founder of SportsShooter.com. You can see his member page here: http://www.sportsshooter.com/brad and his personal website here: http://www.manginphotography.com)

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